NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Fifteen-year-old Canadian Raphael Lessard has never driven a 3,300-pound ARCA car. However, the super late model regular has been driving his father’s commercial trucks since he was 9 years old.
“My dad has a trucking company. I was driving the big trucks around the yard since I was 9 years old,” said Lessard. “I have loved having a steering wheel in my hands ever since.”
Lessard, on track to make three ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards starts in 2017 with Venturini Motorsports — his first at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville April 8 — also says if his racing dream doesn’t work out, he’s got a fallback plan.
“If racing doesn’t work out, I could drive a truck for my dad.”
It seems doubtful he’ll need the backup plan though, considering what the 11th grader has already accomplished. Lessard won four CARS Late Model Stock Tour events en route to the CARS championship in 2016 driving for David Gilliland Racing.
Lessard was signed by Toyota as a development driver, hence the connection to Venturini Motorsports which develops drivers through the Toyota Racing Development program.
“After the season we had last year, Toyota signed us and said we’d be doing three races with Venturini Motorsports,” Lessard said. “I can’t thank Toyota enough for helping me and believing in me.”
Lessard, whose first language is French, grew up in Quebec where he was playing hockey as soon as he could walk.
“I was playing hockey sometimes two times a day, but I stopped because of racing,” Lessard said. “My dad was racing when I was young and I was following my dad to the races. I didn’t want to go to hockey anymore…I wanted to go with my dad to the races.
“One day, my dad came home and said to me, ‘Raphael, I just bought you a race car.’ My mom said, ‘Are you crazy?’. I just got a big smile on my face. My dad also told me that we were going to go practice and if it goes well, we’re going to race. I won my third race…I was pretty happy with that.”
After the Music City 200 at Nashville, Lessard is also planning on competing in ARCA races at Winchester and Salem speedways. Fortunately, the rookie driver has already raced at Nashville.
“I know the track. I raced in the All-American 400 and we’re going to test the ARCA car before the race. I also raced in the Winchester 400. I have never been to Salem.”
In addition to Lessard’s three ARCA Racing Series events, he’ll be competing in a variety of super late model races.
“I believe we have at least 20 races in the supers this year,” Lessard said. “We’re not going for a championship, but we plan to race in as many of the big races as we can in ARCA/CRA, PASS South and some other series.”